Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2018-19/The Relationship Between Truth and Politics

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Introduction[edit]

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. - George Orwell, 1946

Truth is a concept that can sometimes be thought of as fundamental and single-minded. A statement is either true or false. But in reality, this conception can be segmented into a variety of subcategories. For example, truth can be observed in a wide array of humanities such as history or anthropology or in more scientific areas such as mathematics, biology or physics. Its application can in fact be seen in politics. Truth is defined as the adequation between a judgment or an opinion, and the reality. On the other hand, politics is described as ‘The activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power’[1]. It is collectively admitted that the exercise of power is not possible without a certain practice of lie and manipulation. Many early-age philosophers and even more modern thinkers such as Hannah Arendt had already regarded truth and politics as being antithetical. Through language, politicians can gain influence and power over a large group of people and can therefore use speeches and sermons to sway the masses to see their point of view. This means that a lying politician can be viewed as honest if he perfectly masters the art of demagogy and rhetoric. We have reached a point where society seems more likely to trust those who appeal to emotions and feelings rather than rational facts in order to convey their ideas. The era in which we live in today is indeed more and more perceived as a ‘post-truth’ era. Oxford dictionary defines the adjective ‘post-truth’ as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’[2]. The intention of this essay is to showcase the importance of interdisciplinarity in the understanding of complex issues and how it enables us to achieve a more holistic way of addressing real-world problems. By using philosophical theories, we are able to tackle a much wider perspective and a deeper knowledge of the current phenomenon of false information in politics, and this is made possible through the illustration of the ongoing Brexit.

Rational Truth and Factual Truth[edit]

Rational truths are 'the products of our mind such as doctrines, theorems, arguments, equations and scientific models’[3] which can be proved right, by referring to simple reasoning and valid relations to a theoretical method or criterion. These truths are interconnected with logical truth which points to reasonable and correct outcomes considering a problem, for example for ‘1+1=2’ where the human mind automatically deduces the correct outcome.

Factual truth is the inevitable outcome of human beings in the course of their existence, it is what actually happens. And as Arendt defines it, facts are “the inevitable outcome of men living and acting together”[4] and thus they are very prone to get used for personal gain by changing the actual reality into something more beneficial.

Thus, as facts concerning human affairs are not based on a theoretical or rational method, it is unnatural for a human mind to not alternate the outcome if there is not one right answer based on scientific deduction. Indicating that factual truths are more exposed to destruction when someone attempts to modify them. Another distinction between the discussed truths is that rational truth can be falsified, however, factual truths are often turned into lies in the pursuit of a certain gain from that lie. This act of turning factual truth into lies is often referred to as ‘organised lying’ which is defined by fabricating “images” of reality with an opportunistic goal, presenting them as “true” and leading others to believe that they are “true".[5][6]

Organised lying[edit]

Defined by “the relatively recent phenomenon of mass manipulation of fact and opinion as it has become evident in the rewriting of history, in image-making, and in actual government policy” [7], organised lying has an important relevance to our social life today. Through concocting stories, in other words alternating the factual truths for the purpose of a rise to power, politicians are able to win over like minded-people to vote for them or enforce a particular ideology upon our society. This is particularly common because factual truths are within the grasp every individual, making it generally accessible to consider fatal truths and form them into lies as they are no dividing borders between facts, lies and opinions. Organised lying can be persistently found in political campaigning and one recent example of it is the UK’s referendum referred to as ‘Brexit’.

Brexit[edit]

On June 26th 2016, the British Public voted in favour of leaving the European Union by 51.89% to 48.11%[8], in a political saga known as Brexit. A huge factor in this outcome was the strength of the Vote Leave campaign. Vote Leave was selected by the Electoral Commission as the primary campaign group for the motion of leaving the European Union in the approaching referendum on 13th April, entitling the group to £600,000 of public money and a higher spending limit of £7 million[9]. In light of the victory of the Vote Leave campaign coupled with the government's inability to negotiate a Brexit deal that satisfies the expectations of voters and the Conservative Party, the actions of the Vote Leave campaign have come under great scrutiny, specifically with claims made that lead to the public's decision to leave the EU.

The NHS[edit]

The most infamous claim made by the Vote Leave campaign was the long-debated '£350 Million' statistic. Printed on the side of the "Brexit Bus," it stated 'We send £350 million to the EU every week, let's fund our NHS instead.' This became a hugely significant point of contention between leave and remain voters. In an article for the Telegraph in 2017; leave campaigner and Foreign Secretary (at the time), Boris Johnson reiterated this claim by stating "And yes – once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week[10]." However, the UK Statistics Authority have said that the £350 million claim is "misleading and undermines trust in official statistics[11]." FullFact, claims that we actually pay the EU 'around £250 Million,' but also that 'we get some money back from the EU.' It would appear that the £350 Million claim by the Vote Leave campaign is an over simplification.

It must also be noted that the issue of the NHS is not simply economic, as a health service it is clear that there will be genuine human lives at risk as the uncertainty surrounding Brexit increases. A BMA survey in November 2018 found that 35% of EU doctors have considered leaving the UK following the referendum vote[12]. These are skilled individuals whom conduct vital medical research as well as caring for our most vulnerable members of society. The negative effects of this uncertainty and underfunding could have consequences ranging from stress and discomfort to the cancellation of vital cancer treatments.

References[edit]

  1. politics | Definition of politics in English by Oxford Dictionaries [Internet]. Oxford Dictionaries | English. 2018 [cited 1 December 2018]. Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/politics
  2. post-truth | Definition of post-truth in English by Oxford Dictionaries [Internet]. Oxford Dictionaries | English. 2018 [cited 1 December 2018]. Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth
  3. Pashkova V. Arendt's Political Thought: The Relationship Between Truth And Politics [Ph.D]. Western Sydney University; 2016. [cited 1 December 2018] Available from: https://researchdirect.westernsydney.edu.au/islandora/object/uws%3A37675/datastream/PDF/view
  4. Arendt H. Between past and future. 1st ed. New York: Viking Press; 1968. [cited 1 December 2018] 227.
  5. Pashkova V. Arendt's Political Thought: The Relationship Between Truth And Politics [Ph.D]. Western Sydney University; 2016. [cited 1 December 2018] Available from: https://researchdirect.westernsydney.edu.au/islandora/object/uws%3A37675/datastream/PDF/view
  6. Arendt H. Between past and future. 1st ed. New York: Viking Press; 1968. [cited 1 December 2018] 227.
  7. Arendt H. Between past and future. 1st ed. New York: Viking Press; 1968. [cited 1 December 2018] 228.
  8. The Electoral Commission. EU Referendum Results. [cited 29 November 2018] Available from: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/elections-and-referendums/past-elections-and-referendums/eu-referendum/electorate-and-count-information
  9. The Electoral Commission. Electoral Commission designates ‘Vote Leave Ltd’ and ‘The In Campaign Ltd’ as lead campaigners at EU Referendum. [cited 29 November 2018] Available from:https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/journalist/electoral-commission-media-centre/referendums-to-keep/electoral-commission-designates-vote-leave-ltd-and-the-in-campaign-ltd-as-lead-campaigners-at-eu-referendum [cited 29 November 2018]
  10. Johnson B. 15th September 2017. My vision for a bold, thriving Britain enabled by Brexit. The Daily Telegraph. [cited 29 November 2018] Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2017/09/15/boris-johnson-vision-bold-thriving-britain-enabled-brexit/
  11. The UK Statistics Authority. UK Statistics Authority statement on the use of official statistics on contributions to the European Union. [cited 29 November 2018] Available from: https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/news/uk-statistics-authority-statement-on-the-use-of-official-statistics-on-contributions-to-the-european-union/
  12. The BMA. 15th November 2018. EU Survey 2018. [cited 8 December 2018] Available from: https://www.bma.org.uk/collective-voice/influence/europe/brexit/eu-survey-2018